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Helping Your Adult Children Accept Your New Partner

Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40

Northwest authors Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD, a psychologist and her husband Charles Peck, have six adult children between them. You can participate in the creation of their book "Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40" (and enter to win a $100 Amazon gift card) by sharing your experiences in a survey: www.surveymonkey.com/s/MidlifeRelationships2

Congratulations – you’ve found someone to love in midlife or beyond! Now you are wondering about the reaction of your grown children. Will they accept the person? Will they be uncomfortable with the idea of their mom or dad in a romantic (and probably sexual) relationship?

We’ve had some interesting conversations with young people whose parents remarried after the kids reached adulthood. The transition was not always easy for the younger generation, but the way in which their parents handled it made a big difference. Here are some tips from these young people and from older folks whose children and partners seem to enjoy each other.

Give your child enough information (but not too much). One young person said that her mother’s engagement came as a complete surprise, since the daughter had only met the man one time, despite the fact that she and her mother lived near each other. Other adult children become extremely uncomfortable when parents try to use them as romantic confidantes. No matter how old they are, most kids don’t want to know about their parents’ sexual encounters. This also applies to over-the-top displays of affection when your kids are present. There is nothing wrong with holding hands or the occasional kiss, but anything beyond that may create a serious “ick” factor for your children (and maybe others as well).

Don’t try to create an instant family. You may think your partner is the most fabulous human being ever, but he or she is still a relative stranger to your kids, in most circumstances. Give them time to get to know each other. Don’t refer to your partner’s children as if they were your kids’ siblings when the young people hardly know each other. Remember that everyone involved is now an adult, and has the right to make their own decisions regarding feelings and spending time together.

Your kids may feel a sense of loyalty to their other parent that can interfere with accepting your new partner. Even (or especially) if your former spouse has died, your kids may be conflicted about accepting a new parental figure into the family. And if your children are adults, your partner is not their new mom or dad, and shouldn’t be treated as such. In the best possible situation, your children and your partner may become close friends, and the relationship may be something like that with a favorite aunt or uncle. Developing genuine affection and respect will take time.

Provide opportunities for the relationship to develop naturally. Don’t push, but do try to create situations that allow everyone to get to know each other. For example, working on a project together can create a bond. Charles endeared himself to Jennifer’s daughter and her husband by spending several weekends helping them to prepare the nursery before their child was born, lending his building expertise to the project. Jennifer offered medical information and emotional support to Charles’ children and they responded with appreciation.

Because your new partner is entering an established family comprised of you and your children, he or she needs to be willing to learn your family culture and be respectful of how you and your kids interact (and, of course, you need to do the same regarding your partner’s family).

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